Cultivating callouses


At the end of last year I set myself an ambitious goal.  I was going to try to make lace for 20 hours every week – two hours every night from Monday to Friday, and then five hours on a Saturday, and five hours on a Sunday.  I knew it was an ambitious goal and it might not work out as planned, but hey, shoot for the moon and you might land among the stars.  And I knew that sometimes it might not work out exactly as planned, but it was aspirational rather than cast in stone.

I have been very disciplined about it.  Every time I make lace, I time myself using the stopwatch function on my mobile.  And then I tally up the time and at the end of the day I put it into an Excel spreadsheet.  (You can manage what you measure!)

I am pretty happy with how things have gone so far this year.  While I have not quite managed to do 20 hours per week every single week (due to exams and other non-negotiable commitments), I have actually done much better than originally anticipated.

The commitment to making lace so regularly and for set amounts of time has had such  a wonderful impact on my life.  The first and most obvious benefit is that my lace grows really fast and that I manage to finish a lot more projects.  It has also brought me great joy – the quiet contemplation and solitude and complete immersion in making lace for two whole hours every weekday.  It has a meditative quality that suspends time and thought, and dissolves away all the stresses of the day.

But it has also had a very unexpected side-effect.  Let me explain.  I have made a lot of point ground lace this year.  And anyone who has made point ground lace would know it requires an extraordinary number of pins.  And all of those pins need to be pushed through the pinhole in the pricking and into the pillow.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times over and over and over again.


It slows me down tremendously if I use a pin pusher, so I tend to use my right index finger most of the time.  Doing that day in, day out, for twenty hours per week, every week, has had a massive impact on the tip of my right index finger.  It used to be soft, squishy, delicate even.  And then the onslaught of the pins changed all of that.

In the beginning, my index finger was sore.  Then it became really sore.  Then it started  throbbing.  And then it felt as though it was on fire.

And at that point I literally couldn’t continue using my right index finger to push in the pins.  So then the assault on my left index finger started.  Same story.

I moisturised, I laid off the lacemaking for a few days and then tried again.  But there was no letting up.

Over time my body’s protective measures kicked in, and the tips of my index fingers became toughened and calloused in response to the repeated and consistent friction and pressure on the tips of my index fingers.  And so, in theory, it was supposed to become less painful because the thickened skin would provide a protective layer.

But unbeknown to me, it takes daily grind and persistent effort to maintain a good quality callous to protect your fingers against the onslaught of lacemaking pins.  I found this out the hard way a couple of months ago after a period of about three weeks that I wasn’t able to make any lace at all.  When I got back to making lace, I tried to make up for lost time.  I made lace for seven hours straight on the Saturday, and eight hours straight on the Sunday.  Not a good idea. The quality of the calloused skin and its protective properties deteriorated quite markedly during this three week period.  It did not end well.  Let’s just say there were cracked callouses and bleeding fingers.


For the next few days I kept using my pin pusher.  But it was frustratingly slow to use it for every single pin.  There had to be a better way.  If I wanted to keep going I would have to stage a dramatic intervention.  So, I decided to start experimenting with using a thimble.  Initially I used a conventional metal thimble on my right index finger.  It covered the whole tip of my index finger (about 1.5cm deep).  But I really did not enjoy that at all.  I missed being able to feel my bobbins given the tip of my index finger was complete covered in a metal thimble.

So, back to the drawing board.  I rifled through all of my needlework supplies and as luck would have it I found another thimble that did the trick.  (I used it for hand quilting many years ago.)  It is a cone shaped thimble that is about 3cm long.  The quirky thing is that I use it on my middle finger rather than my index finger.  It is cone shaped, leaving the tip of your middle finger exposed, and  covers the top  knuckle.  Its oval shape prevents it from rotating on your finger and it fits really comfortably.  At the front of the thimble there are two rows of dimples.  The pinheads fit into these dimples and by exerting a bit of downward pressure, pushing pins into the pricking and lace pillow has become easy and effortless again.



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